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Monday, February 24, 2020

Richmond Black Restaurant Experience Returns

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2020 at 3:08 PM

Although Richmond Restaurant Week was created in 2001 to celebrate the city’s diverse food scene while giving back to the community, it wasn’t until 2015 that Richmond Black Restaurant Week was created to add to that diversity.

Re-branded in 2016 to Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, the event is a celebratory week dedicated to supporting the city’s black-owned restaurants, food truck and cart operators, caterers and local chefs, while also promoting the region’s growing culinary-tourism scene.

“It aims to counter economic disparity within minority-owned businesses with fun and interactive solutions that engage, excite and ignite a deeper understanding and love of Richmond food culture,” explains co-organizer Shemicia Bowen. The goal is to create a unified week of experiences that, in part, builds community though collective marketing and economics.

Like Richmond Restaurant Week, Richmond Black Restaurant Experience donates part of the week’s profits to local nonprofits. In the past, it has given to Renew Richmond and the Food Justice Corridor. This year, the Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals will be the recipient.

In addition to its philanthropic arm, Richmond Black Restaurant Experience also aims to increase revenue and patronage for the participating restaurants as a means of stimulating business growth.

“Many of our participants now have multiple locations,” says co-organizer Amy Wentz. “There’s Brewer’s Café and Brewer’s Waffle, Spoon Bread and Spoon Bread Deux and Soul Taco now has locations in Jackson Ward and Shockoe Bottom.” 
For those unclear about why Richmond needs both restaurant weeks, the organizers of Richmond Black Restaurant Experience see it as an opportunity to highlight the growing black–owned restaurants in the region.

“While Richmond is deemed a foodie town, we want to ensure these businesses are included in that narrative,” says co-organizer Kelli Lemon. Another difference is that Richmond Black Restaurant Experience isn’t just about food. The organizers have combined other elements — social, history, wellness, community and civic partnerships — to offer resources and address entrepreneurship and community wealth-building more holistically.

This year, Richmond Black Restaurant Experience takes place March 1-8 and, for the first time, a second week in the fall is also in the works. Mobile Soul Sunday kicks off the event March 1 from noon to 5 p.m. at Kanawha Plaza. The family-friendly event will offer more than 10 food trucks of all kinds — veggie, Southern soul, Caribbean, grill and smokehouse flavors — so guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets and have a picnic. There will also be a pop-up market, a kids’ zone and DJs playing music.

The final event, Stick a Fork in It, is held March 8 and is reminiscent of Broad Appétit The community is invited to check out local black-owned catering companies and chefs at the Altria Theatre from noon to 5 p.m. Small plates priced at $3-5 will be available, along with an artisan market, tasting contests and cooking demonstrations. Admission is free, but a paid VIP experience is available. In between the first and final events will be a film screening by Afrikana Film Festival at the Black History Museum and Art for the Soul, an evening of food, fashion, art, music and workshops at Studio Two Three. Information for all events can be found at the group’s website.

With 35 participants, eaters will have plenty of choices of old favorites and appetizing newcomers.

“We believe that important conversations can happen over food and this week exposes all of Richmond to the small gems throughout the city,” Bowen says.

“It truly is where culture meets cuisine.”

The Richmond Black Restaurant Experience runs March 1- 8. See virginiablackrestaurantexperience.com.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Barrio Taqueria & Tequila takes over the old Pearl Raw Bar space

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2020 at 2:16 PM

What do Sammy Hagar, Nick Jonas and George Clooney have in common? Tequila company owners all. In Richmond, they are also represented in a tequila flight at Barrio, the latest eatery from the Richmond Restaurant Group.

The space that housed Pearl Raw Bar for six years has been replaced with Barrio Taqueria & Tequila and refreshed with a new look. Two glass-fronted garage doors replace the solid brick wall along Strawberry Street, filling the restaurant with light. Pearl’s tables have been refurbished and are now encircled with colorful metal chairs — yellow, blue, orange and red — and bar stools.

A colorful Ed Trask mural has been painted on the brick next to the bar, while a facing wall sports a mural advertising “Cerveza 5¢” executed by local muralist Caesar McGann. Both artists contributed to the images of agave plants throughout.

The back room has been converted into a lounge with the addition of a bar, love seats and cushy chairs and will be open Thursdays through Saturdays only until the restaurant is established. In addition to the private parties it’s known for, the upstairs room will see more dinner action nightly due to the loss of tables in the lounge.

Most striking of all, the kitchen is now enclosed in a vintage silver Airstream trailer, the interior of which had to be stripped down to the metal frame and cut into sections to fit into the limited space. Once fitted around the kitchen, it was riveted back together. Unexpectedly, the back end of the trailer shows up between the kitchen and the lounge.
The motivation for a shift in focus came from the limited size of the eatery’s nucleus.

“For such a big space, we’ve got a very small kitchen and dish room, so we wanted to do something easier for assembling food,” explains Richmond Restaurant Group co-owner Jared Golden. “This menu requires far fewer pans than Pearl did, making the space function much better.” On that menu are starters like tuna tostada and nachos, a dozen kinds of tacos including three vegetarian options, and a “not taco” section offering tortas, salad and burritos.

Golden says the cocktail list was built for speed, no surprise given how busy the place gets on Friday and Saturday nights when a DJ spins regularly. Eight of the dozen cocktails are tequila-based, including a soft-serve margarita made with the sorbet of the day, currently lime. Wine, beer and agua frescas provide options, including a reminder on the menu that you can add a spirit of your choice to any of the nonalcoholic beverages.

But it’s tequila that gets the starring role with more than 45 listed now and more to come. The tequila menu is broken down into blanco, aged less than 60 days, reposado, aged 60 days to a year, and anejo, which is aged one to three years in oak barrels. Five tequila flights, like the Celebrities on the Shelf flight already mentioned, are available with each one featuring a blanco, a reposado and an anejo.

Currently, Barrio is only serving dinner, with a Saturday and Sunday brunch tentatively scheduled to start Feb. 15.

“We’ll add lunch once we get fully staffed up,” Golden says.

Barrio Taqueria & Tequila
2229 W. Main St.
353-2424
barriorva.com

Monday, February 3, 2020

Roastology joins the city’s robust coffee culture with new Cary Street space

Posted By on Mon, Feb 3, 2020 at 2:01 PM

Coffee roaster and cafe Roastology opened Jan. 21 with hours that spanned Monday through Saturday. After exactly one week in business, it’s already talking about adding Sunday hours.

Owner Dan Allen’s new reality is that he’s not in Midlothian anymore. Roastology began life in suburban Richmond in 2013, shuttering in November after leasing the new space. He used the ensuing two months to brainstorm with his staff about exactly how the business should run.

The new cafe at 2701 W. Cary St. sits a block from Arthur Ashe Boulevard in a building that most recently was a woodworking shop but was originally an MG dealership and gas station. Step inside the refurbished building and the first impression is of the gas station’s marquee, which now curves over top of the coffee bar.

“We wanted to be part of the city’s robust coffee culture,” Allen says from his 5,000-square-foot space where he and his staff order, process, roast and package their own coffee beans in addition to running a coffee bar and cafe. Like bees to honey, neighborhood residents have already begun the process of becoming regulars.

There’s a lot to like about the open and inviting space. A long counter faces two large windows which look into the roasting room, an intentional design choice.

“The glass gives separation for processing but allows customers to see what we’re doing,” explains head roaster Mary Doerr, who started with Roastology in 2014 but has worked in the coffee business for over a decade. Even though the two coffee roasting machines in back can get hotter than 500 degrees, customers don’t hesitate to knock on the glass to ask for a tour, which Doerr is happy to give.

In the main room, customers fill nearly every available seat, including the two-top tables crafted by Allen and his wife Elise, which have been finished with resin-covered coffee beans. Near the back, others lounge on leather couches and chairs angled toward the fireplace, which is faced with wood salvaged from the floor joints of a Grace Street house. That same reclaimed wood has been used for counter tops, the retail shelving that holds bags of beans and T-shirts and the community table.

“I originally thought the community table would be for large groups that came in,” Allen says. “But every time I look out there, it’s a bunch of smaller groups all sitting together. A real community table.”

Acknowledging that the city’s food culture is as robust as its coffee culture, Allen had to double his staff to 16 for the new endeavor, as well as expand the cafe’s food program. In Midlothian, Roastology offered one breakfast sandwich and three lunch sandwiches, but the new menu boasts five breakfast offerings, small plates, salads and 10 sandwiches, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. Pickles and spreads such as fig jam and apricot chutney are made in-house.
Already, the staff is recognizing differences between a Midlothian crowd and their new city clientele. “Here, people are a lot more willing to try new things,” says Julia Thomas, who began as a barista and now assists with roasting and packaging. “And a lot more people go for lighter, naturally processed coffees.”

One of the most appealing aspects of the renovated building is the replacement of the old wooden garage doors with glass garage doors that allow in light. Despite opening in January, the cafe was so crowded on its first Saturday that the staff rolled one of the garage doors partway up to let out body heat and allow air in. More than a few customers took that as an invitation to walk in under the open doors.

“We were a destination before because we weren’t in a residential neighborhood,” Allen says. “Now people stop in because they walk by and see us and they linger. They’re happy to have a coffee shop so near so we want to be good neighbors.”

Roastology
2701 W. Cary St.
Mondays – Fridays 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

To Brie or Not to Brie

Truckle Cheesemongers opens brick and mortar in Scott’s Addition

Posted By on Tue, Dec 17, 2019 at 1:06 PM

In a room adjacent to Blue Bee Cider, with cobbled walls and industrial lights, sits Maggie Bradshaw, a woman who’s tried more than 1,000 cheeses.

She owns a personal cheese fridge at home with a revolving collection of blues, bries and white cheddar — there always has to be white cheddar. It’s the only cheese her son eats.

In her gray Truckle Cheesemongers sweatshirt, Bradshaw leans forward, lowering her voice as two customers with a cheese board and cider pairing come into the seating area.

“I’ve always wanted to open a cheese shop,” she says.

As of late October she has, in a small but manageable space on Summit Avenue. After an experienced run at farmers markets, Bradshaw can now carry soft cheeses, whip up a gourmet grilled cheese and offer charcuterie boards with a prosciutto that melts on your tongue.

Getting a meat slicer was a big step.

“Even just a little bit on a board gives so much,” she says. “Like a chorizo with a manchego just has that classic oomph.”

To break down the name, a truckle is a wheel of cheese that’s taller than it is wide, like a Stilton or big British cheddar cheese. As for cheesemonger, it’s simple: a seller of cheese.

As she mentions the four simple ingredients to the dairy product — milk, cultures, rennet and salt — a particular scene in “She’s the Man,” the modern take on William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” comes to mind. In a truly 2000s cultural moment, Viola Hastings (Amanda Bynes), disguised as Sebastian, teaches Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum) how to talk to girls, saying it can all be jump started with asking if they like cheese.

“OK… do you … like … cheese?” Orsino asks hesitantly.

“Why yes, I do, my favorite’s Gouda!” she responds.

Naturally, I ask if Bradshaw’s seen it.

Her mouth turns up.

“I have to watch this movie,” Bradshaw says before admitting she hasn’t but that it’s now on her list.

Big cheese: Maggie Bradshaw - AMBER PARKER
  • Amber Parker
  • Big cheese: Maggie Bradshaw

For the record, her favorite cheeses change constantly. She’s always been a fan of the blue family, a decision she quickly defends by saying they get a bad reputation. A good blue is not going to be the crumbled kind you find atop a flimsy salad at a chain restaurant, she says. No shade to chains, they know not what they do.

But when talking about the Valdeon, a Spanish blue that’s a creamy cow-goat milk combination, Bradshaw’s eyes widen.

“This is why I want to sample it out because I’m like, ‘I want everybody to eat this cheese,’” Bradshaw says. “There’s also this brie I eat probably two ounces of every single day for the last three weeks … it’s good protein.”

Growing up in small town Kentucky, nice cheeses weren’t an around-the-corner expectation. This changed when Bradshaw studied abroad in Paris, where cheese shops are as common as French baguette sandwiches offered at the boulangerie.

By then, her love cannonballed into something more: working for trade associations, part-time jobs in cheese shops and helping out on farms when nine months pregnant — the usual for a cheese enthusiast.

She works with a distributor outside of Alexandria and a Charlottesville farm that comes to town every week or so to cultivate the flavor profiles she’s after in addition to making her own beer cheese. A good counter should always have staples with varying textures and styles, Bradshaw notes.

Eventually, the dream is to have another location and cater grilled cheeses while keeping it going with an assortment of jams, jellies and olive oil pairings.

The chalkboard writing states its grilled cheese of the day includes Gruyere with a peach preserves jam made on Montana Gold Bread. It’s stationed next to a sample board of Irish brown bread crackers topped with a black currant jelly and Valdeon — Bradshaw’s current favorite blue. Its neighbor? Salami with a cumin and garlic zest.

Behind the counter an employee is organizing the cheese display as the music of the Smiths plays overhead.

When asked what her role at Truckle is, she pauses and “hmm's” briefly.

“You’re a cheesemonger!” Bradshaw says, patting her back and laughing.

“Yeah! I’m a cheesemonger.”

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Starr Hill Beer Hall and Rooftop Opens in Scott's Addition

Posted By on Sun, Dec 15, 2019 at 4:00 AM

The new Starr Hill Beer Hall and Rooftop opened in Scott's Addition at 3406 W. Leigh St. on Saturday.
  • The new Starr Hill Beer Hall and Rooftop opened in Scott's Addition at 3406 W. Leigh St. on Saturday.

The Jamestown settlers did it, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did it, and Starr Hill has been doing it since 1999. As of today, Starr Hill Brewery is also doing it in, where else? Scott’s Addition.

Located at 3406 West Leigh St., the 8,500 square feet Starr Hill Beer Hall and Rooftop is open every day of the week and will serve beer from its new pilot system in addition to classics from the founding Crozet production facility. Their opening blowout, with three bands and two food trucks, was held Saturday, Dec. 14 from noon to 9 p.m.

The interior, with its soaring ceiling and abundant seating, boasts a mid-century modern-styled lounge area, high-top tables, community tables and a colorful mural depicting the James River and the Richmond skyline, executed by Kyle Harrell, the artist known as Humble. The bathrooms are wallpapered with the enlarged art of a previous beer label, minus the wording.

For outdoor lovers, there’s also a patio and a generously-sized rooftop bar with sweeping views of not only Scott’s Addition, but the Diamond and downtown. Permanent heaters have been installed on the rooftop and a drop-down curtain will allow staff to create a comfortable environment for guests no matter the weather. Best of all, 24 rotating taps are available at both bars, downstairs and upstairs.

Starr Hill started out as a Charlottesville music hall in 1999 – owner Coran Capshaw managed and launched the Dave Matthews Band - so you can count on music figuring prominently in Scott’s Addition. A stage is built into the front of the taproom, with plans to feature live music several nights a week from up-and-coming Central Virginia artists. To drive that point home, the wall next to the staircase is lined with eye-catching music show posters by bands such as Phish, Trey Anastasio and Chris Stapleton, all of whom are managed by Capshaw. That focus is in Starr Hill’s DNA.

“Music is integral to our brand,” explains finance manager Josh Cromwell. “It’s the central theme of our taproom experience.”

That taproom features a custom 10-barrel brewing system along with five American white oak foeders –large wooden vats used to age beer – allowing Starr Hill’s brew team to produce wild ales. Tested successfully at the brewery’s Roanoke location, the pilot system will give them increased flexibility to annually brew more than 50 limited release batches of ales, lagers and wild beers such as juicy, hazy IPAs, fruited brett sours, rich stouts, delicate pilsners and lagers. Preparations are currently in process to start brewing in January.

inside.jpeg

It’s worth noting that Starr Hill is the second-oldest brewery in the commonwealth of Virginia, second only to our own Legend Brewing.

“We wanted to involve the brewing area with the taproom,” says Cromwell of putting the inner workings on display. “We wanted it to be at the forefront to answer customers’ questions and be able to explain what we do.”

A merchandise shop is situated near the bar, offerings guests a chance to take a little Starr Hill home with them in the form of t-shirts, dog collars outfitted with bottle openers, fleece vests, knit hats, brewery glasses, caps and flannel shirts. For a more quaffable souvenir, guests can have growlers and crowlers – 32 oz. cans – filled with their favorite suds. And while food trucks will be on premises regularly, a touch screen is also positioned nearby to allow guests to order food delivered directly to the taproom.

Cromwell, who grew up in Midlothian is beyond thrilled about the company’s newest location, noting with pride, “I’m really happy to be part of bringing Starr Hill beer back to my hometown.”

Starr Hill Beer Hall and Rooftop, 3406 W. Leigh St. Open Mondays 5-9 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays 3-9 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays 3-10 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sundays noon – 8 p.m.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Dining Out for Thanksgiving

Changed your mind last minute? Here are some options still available.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 4:00 AM

I’m someone who 100% would ask her mother the possibility of cooking a turkey in a microwave. She’d most likely convulse and pass out at the thought. I also burn toast so imagine me working a kitchen and having people depend on me for a cranberry pie.

Two words: please no.

Maybe this is you, or maybe you’re dodging the classic Thanksgiving feast. Whatever the reason, here are some local restaurants that are offering Thanksgiving dinner and still have reservations open.

Bar Solita

Times available: 6:15, 6:45, 7:00, 7:15, 7:30

Price: $29.95 per person

What’s on the menu: Turkey, ham, or turkey-ham dinner combo is on the table but the full dinner menu is still an option so uh, I don’t know about you but I’m eyeing those tapas.

Address: 123 W. Broad St.

Phone: 804-308-3605

Bistro 27

Times available: 7:00, 7:15, 7:30, 7:45, 8:00

Price: $48.50 for adults; $24.25 for children 8 and under

What’s on the menu: three-course meal with a buffet selection of different types of salads and a bread station to carb it up. Entrees include prime ribs, bronzed salmon with whiskey roasted tomatoes, roasted turkey breast, beef ravioli, roasted chicken breast or a mysterious vegetarian dish. If you’re a Thanksgiving stuffing and cranberry sauce person, you’re in luck. They’ve got you.

Address: 27 West Broad St.

Phone: 804-780-0086

Bookbinder’s Seafood and Steakhouse

Times available: 5:45, 6:00

Price: Three-course meal for $70 per adult; $17 for children 12 and under

What’s on the menu: First course options include a Tobacco Row salad, roasted butternut squash soup or she crab soup. Second course options include pan-seared Chesapeake rockfish drizzled with a horseradish creme fraiche, the classic turkey dinner, filet mignon with a crispy puff pastry or pan-seared salmon served with green bean casserole and family-style mashed potatoes Dessert options are blackout chocolate layer pudding cake, key lime pie with oreo cookie crust or NY-style cheesecake.

Address: 2306 E Cary St Richmond, Virginia, 23223

Phone: 804-643-6900

Camden’s Dogtown Market

Times available: 11 a.m.

Price: $25

What’s on the menu: One of the few places that offers a seitan roast for your vegetarian or vegan pleasure. There’s also a roasted turkey with sage and thyme and sides that make me wish I could have a giant bathtub of it at all times. Yes, I’m talking about their sweet potato, pineapple, orange and apple casserole.

Address: 201 W 7th St

Phone: 804-745-6488

Max’s on Broad

Times available: for a party of 2, 12:30 to 8:30 is wide open;

Price: $29.95 per person

What’s on the menu: Since it’s another restaurant that’s part of RVA Hospitality group, the Thanksgiving menu will be the same as Tarrant’s and Bar Solita. Expect the “fixins.” The dinner menu is still fair game, which means their seared scallops and yellowfin tuna seared medium rare may be calling my name.

Address: 305 Brook Rd.

Phone: 804-225-0400

Nick’s Roman Terrace

Times available: 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.

Price: $28 per person for a prix-fixe menu

What’s on the menu: Nick’s famous rolls and a turkey, ham, dressing, potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy dinner.

Address: 8051 W Broad St.

Phone: 804-270-2988

Patrick Henry Pub & Grille

Times available: noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m.

Price: $32 per adult, $16 for children 12 and under; walk-ins are $40 per adult, $20 for children

What’s on the menu: Oh, baby. We’re talking mac n’cheese, we’re talking deep-fried turkey and prime rib and we’re talking green bean casserole. Everything is buffet style so stuff your face with every pie they have available. Spoiler alert, it’s cranberry, apple and pumpkin.

Address: 2300 E Broad St.

Phone: 804-644-4242

Sam Miller’s

Times available: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Price: $49 per person

What’s on the menu: Appetizers include a grilled scallop crostini topped with a bacon cranberry jam, crab soup, pumpkin and acorn squash soup or roasted carrot and asparagus salad topped with toasted pecan vinaigrette. For the entree, you have the option of a turkey dinner, lump crab cake, a mustard glazed salmon or a brown-butter-basted filet mignon. The third and final course, options include pumpkin pie, pome-berry cheesecake or white chocolate cranberry bread pudding.

Address: 1210 East Cary St.

Phone: 804-644-5465

Tarrant’s West

Times available: 8:15, 8:30 p.m.

Price: $29.95 per adult; $15.95 for children 10 and under

What’s on the menu: Full dinner menu is fair game but traditional turkey, ham or turkey-ham dinner is available

Address: 11129 Three Chopt Rd

Phone: 804-205-9009

The Tobacco Company

Times available: 5 p.m. for a party of 6

Price: For a little Thanksgiving dinner, it’s $30 for adults and $16 for children

What’s on the menu: Full dinner menu is fair game but this one includes roasted turkey breast with applewood smoked ham, a pecan sweet potato casserole and southern cornbread stuffing.

Address: 1201 East Cary St.

Phone: 804-782-9555

Trevi’s Grill

Times available: 11:00 - 3:00 p.m. with seating available every half hour

Price: $42 per adult, $20 for children 6-12

What’s on the menu: Trevi’s has a twist: it’s a Thanksgiving brunch from 11a.m. to 3p.m that includes mimosas and complimentary parking. There’s multiple stations, such as breakfast that includes bananas foster french toast and southern spiced breakfast potatoes, seafood, meats and cheese, salads, soups that include a butternut squash bisque, entrees such as southern blackened salmon or vegan quinoa and desserts. We’re talking spiced cranberry oatmeal cream pies, apple cobbler and liquid nitrogen spun ice cream.

Address: 100 S 12th St.

Phone: 804-344-7000

Honorable mentions:

Not a Thanksgiving dinner but Island Shrimp Co. and Casa Del Barco are offering a Friendsgiving happy hour that goes from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. Just in case you’re thinking of getting boozy in public.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sampling Gwar’s Vegan Wings

Posted By on Mon, Nov 11, 2019 at 2:42 PM

In an attempt to be an equal opportunity lover of wings, I ventured into the depths of Chef Balsac’s creative juices for the vegan wings at Gwar Bar.

Recently named one of the top Pabst Blue Ribbon sellers in the country, coming in hot at No. 64, Gwar Bar’s brick exterior in Jackson Ward is unassuming, delicate even, when coming in from the right-hand side on West Clay Street. But if you find yourself the street over, a demonic fake baby with questionable genetics greets every customer alongside other horror masks and heads. 

Once inside, the heavy metal grunge atmosphere, inspired by the Richmond band, consists of body parts hanging overhead — a leg here, a boob there — “Seinfeld” playing in a corner and blood-splattered tabletops covered with old Gwar concert tickets. If executioner chic could be a vibe, Gwar Bar is the embodiment of the character hired to kill Buckbeak the Hippogriff in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

If not for the wings, the build-your-own mac n’ cheese with a Vegan Wopper scum dog would be calling my name. But alas, there’s business to attend to. Here’s a rundown of Gwar Bar’s offerings of seitan “wings,” beer-battered cauliflower and fried artichoke nuggets soaked in vegan Buffalo sauce.

For the seitan wings, it depends on if you’re a boneless-over-bone wing enthusiast and how far gone you are from the meat spectrum. If you like the juicy, crunchy bite of a boneless wing at Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday nights, this is not for you. If you’re a texture person, the seitan won’t satisfy a wing craving. I was hoping for the sauteed type of seitan that parallels a barbecue rib’s grittiness. Instead, it’s on the mushier, mashed-potato-like side.

The artichoke alternative provides a sweetness to the wings, and for those fans of the roasted artichoke taste, perhaps you won’t mind that juiciness overpowering the Buffalo sauce. But for me, the sauce should linger long enough to make you sweat a little. I found myself dunking copious amounts of it onto a singular nugget — which is arguably the size of my fist — to no avail. The vegan Buffalo sauce is watery, and while seeing it slide off the side of the wing is satisfactory, the flavor isn’t.

Now the cauliflower option? It elicited a swift three-second closing of my eyes to take it all in. This is it. It’s tender and crisp, with the Buffalo coating so smooth, thick and substantial that it deserves a place in my closet for the upcoming winter. I can only imagine what it’d be like with the in-house barbecue sauce.

So when I die, bury me in Gwar Bar’s cauliflower wings.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Pop-top Spirits

A taste test of Belle Isle Moonshine’s newly released canned cocktails.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2019 at 10:37 AM

When someone asks you to rank Belle Isle Moonshine’s newly released canned cocktails, there’s only one appropriate response: Sign me up.

Something about drinking a canned cocktail over its more commonly known name of spiked seltzer makes me feel like a pioneer surpassing the era of White Claws and Trulys.

At least, as much as a person who has no expertise in the science behind these seltzers and just wants to feel buzzed and refreshed could be a pioneer in anything.

The canned cocktail endeavor from Belle Isle Moonshine, the Manchester-based distillery known for its handcrafted spirits, came at the right time. This was the summer of spiked seltzer memes, people captioning photos with “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking claws” and various police departments tweeting that the statement would not hold up in court.

And let’s not forget the nationwide White Claw shortage that took social media by storm in early September or the released line of Natural Light hard seltzers. It makes sense why there’s such a craze: It’s gluten-free, affordable and a lower-calorie alternative to beer.

Checking off these boxes along with it being local and marketed as “premium, ready-to-drink” gives Belle Isle Moonshine an oomph factor along with its use of all-natural juices and organic alcohol.

Taste put aside, the slim, easy-to-hold pop-top cans are stunningly beautiful. The semi-matte finish and sleek neutral colors complement each other well, so much so that whoever’s behind the detailed design deserves a raise. I’d purchase a four-pack just to have the cans as an accessory to my outfit.

But I digress. Here’s the ranking of canned cocktails from my least favorite to the one I’d swipe my credit card for any day of the week.

3. Shine & Soda

Out of the three canned cocktails introduced Oct. 1, Shine & Soda is the lowest calorie option, with zero carbs, zero sugars and 90 calories per can. I wanted to like it, I really did. Its tag line on the website is all about replacing “your vodka soda with something better” and I’m always looking to one-up my go-to basic order at the bar.

This is not exactly something better.

It’s difficult to get past the smell that’s reminiscent of a hospital bed. It overwhelmed the experience so much that I started craving jello and a breakfast tray to eat it on. It doesn’t provide the burn of malt liquor, but it also doesn’t give much else.

I’d opt for this one if my tongue is already numb and I’m wanting to let the buzz linger. If just hanging out, I’d find it difficult to finish an entire can — unless I chased the Shine & Soda with the Blood Orange. That was an experimental decision that had me audibly saying “ahh.”

For those who lean more toward a muted vodka taste without the citrus of the lime, it’d be a flawless alternative to a mixed drink. Or if you’re a fan of White Claw’s pure seltzer.

2. Blood Orange & Soda

Upon pressing my nose to the aluminum pop-top, I’m immediately obsessed with the smell of fresh oranges.

The actual drinking experience though? Not particularly enjoyable. At least, not upon the initial sip. I was expecting the tart sweetness I associate with a blood orange, but instead was reminded of the bitterness of lemons left in fruit-infused water for too long. It’s bold for sure, with an aftertaste that lingers, but after leisurely drinking it, I’d recommend it more for anyone who craves a slight bitterness in a cocktail.

In theory, I love the blood-orange-and-soda combo. Bring on the antioxidants and vitamin C! But sadly for me, it tasted like the beginning of a hangover.

You win some, you lose most.

1. Ruby Red & Soda

Oh yes. If the Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit that’s infused into this cocktail wasn’t already award-winning, I’d start a riot. It’s effortlessly mixed with soda, providing an all-encompassing sensory experience that sends me back to summer night heart-to-heart conversations on a riverside dock.

It’s everything I want in a canned cocktail. I love it so much that I’d shotgun it, completely unprompted, at a pregame and ignore the bubbly fizz scraping my throat. It’s easily the sweeter of the three, and at times provides a taste similar to Sprite with its hint of lime.

My only qualm would be that it does feel more like a flavored soda than a cocktail, and as a result, my heart was racing in the same way it would if I was iced with a Smirnoff Ice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say these introductory canned cocktails give White Claws and Trulys a little competition. Not everyone likes every flavor — I’m looking at you, Bon & Viv’s cranberry spiked seltzer. So with a rumored launch of new flavors, particularly the honey habanero, I’ll be the first one in line seeing how Belle Isle Moonshine continues to change the seltzer game, one recyclable can at a time.

For information on where to find a Belle Isle Moonshine canned cocktail near you, visit belleislecraftspirits.com.

Friday, October 25, 2019

PREVIEW: C’est le Vin's 10th Anniversary Celebration

Posted By on Fri, Oct 25, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Making it to ten years in the restaurant business is tough. According to a study conducted by Cornell University, 30% of restaurants fail or change ownership in the first year. And, yikes, that number jumps to 60% by year three.

So it’s hard not to be impressed by a Richmond restaurant that not only makes it to the decade mark, but does so with a year and a half of construction at their front door.

When C’est le Vin opened in 2009, Richmond was a very different restaurant town, one that wasn’t used to the regular attention of the national press. C’est le Vin felt like a secret treasure in Shockoe Bottom, a place offering a unique selection of art, wine, terrific food and price points that didn’t limit it to special occasions.

Ethiopian-born owner Genet Semere originally moved to Richmond in 1976, doing real estate and tax work. She returned to Ethiopia in 1993 where she opened several restaurants and clubs before moving back to Richmond – doesn’t everybody? – in 2002.

When she first saw the building on 17th Street, it was sad looking and boarded up, but it intrigued her. When it remained shuttered for the next four years, she took it as a sign. “Maybe it was waiting for me,” she concluded and finally called the owner.

She began renting it in 2008 and by 2009, set out to create a wine bar in a city that didn’t know from wine bars.

“I wanted to create a European-style wine bar, a place where people could come relax, get treated well and enjoy wine and tapas,” Semere says. “We were Richmond’s first wine bar and then in 2010 came Secco.”

By 2015, Wine Enthusiast included C’est le Vin its top 20 wine bars in America, noting that it featured “live ¬music, more than 200 bottles and a solid array of by-the-glass selections, with special attention paid to Virginia wines.”

The restaurant holds free wine tastings Wednesday through Saturday evenings from 5 – 7 p.m. and once a month, they bring in wine vendors for a bigger tasting of a dozen or so wines. The point is to educate people so that they learn what they like and perhaps expand their palates.

Then came the sledgehammer. The city closed the 17th Street Farmers’ Market in July 2017, assuring nearby tenants it would only be closed for six months. Because C’est le Vin fronts 17th Street, it was like a death sentence. But Semere hung in there despite the rubble, by limiting her hours to poetry Thursdays and wine-down Fridays and counting the days to completion.

“That made us have to start all over again,” she recalls. “Our regular customers are finally starting to come back.”

Everyone from regulars to first-timers are invited to C’est le Vin’s tenth anniversary party this Saturday from 4-8 p.m. The celebration takes place outside at the farmers’ market and will feature live entertainment and the opportunity to sample sixteen wines from Italy, Spain, Germany, Chile, Argentina and Virginia. There’s no cover charge for the party, but the wine tasting is $20, with tickets available on site.

After a decade in business, Semere has some strong opinions about what Richmond restaurant owners need, among them more support from the ABC.

“They’re always saying no to doing something, being negative all the time,” she insists. “I wish Richmond could be like New York or D.C. and be open for business. We want to do good things, but they’re always no-ing us. Let Richmond grow.”

C’est le Vin 10th Anniversary Celebration, Saturday, Oct. 26 4-8 p.m., 15 N. 17th St., cestlevinrva.com

Monday, October 21, 2019

Next Moves

Nonprofit expands internship to include bakery that employs young adults with disabilities.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 2:43 PM

Steps away from United Methodist Church’s “DIFFERENCES MAKE THE WORLD BEATUIFUL” sign, Elizabeth Redford sips intermittently on her Blue Ridge Kombucha. Her eyes crinkle before waving toward a James Madison University flag hanging above the residence next door. 

“This is going to be the house!” she says of the space in Westover Hills.

Opening in fall 2020, Tablespoons Bakery will train and employ young adults with disabilities through the Next Move Program, an education-focused nonprofit — of which Redford is executive director — that creates internships for individuals with disabilities. Interns would come in as part of their school day and focus on skills like basic recipes, health and nutrition, measurements, and kitchen safety.

With a curriculum that’s gotten approval from Virginia’s Department of Education, the program also includes workplace development, corporate values and financial literacy. The hope is to ultimately employ interns or make referrals out to other restaurants for opportunities.

In Virginia, there’s a 70% unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Redford attributes this to how graduating with modified high school diplomas can in many cases make them ineligible to go on to two-year or four-year colleges. 

“It’s not just having a place to go every day nine-to-five,” Redford says. “There’s a huge sense of empowerment. … It gives them a sense of security for their future.”

Prior to having this space, students sold baked goods at the South of the James Farmers Market, where they’d sell out their oatmeal cream pies and unicorn cookies each week. To keep up with demand, they had to scale back appearances to once a month, but the relationships between the students and customers remain intact.

Elizabeth Redford
  • Elizabeth Redford

“They get especially excited when they connect with the customer and they see that customers enjoy their oatmeal cream pie,” she says, “It makes our students so proud because they’re part of every aspect of this.”

The interns do the inventory, packaging, baking and even help with social media posts. When thinking of the impact the program had on individuals, Redford frequently thinks back to stories like Cheyenne’s.

When she joined Tablespoons in 2017, Cheyenne couldn’t consistently identify coins and bills. But after regular practice at the farmers market, counting out change and doing it onsite at a catering job, she did it. 

She’s now the top cashier. 

Looking forward, Redford is excited to transform the former house and potentially repurpose old church pews for seating. But she says nothing was better than to hear the students feel proud to have a space that’s theirs to learn, work and celebrate their friends.

“We got to tell our students that we thought we had a space here at the church and the amount of happy tears and cheering and high-fives and hugs,” Redford says. “One student literally shouted ‘We have a space now! We have a space now!’”

The next fundraising event will be a celebrity bake-off Oct. 27 from 1-4 p.m. at Westover Hills United Methodist Church. Tickets can be purchased at thegreatrvabakeoff.eventbrite.com.

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